- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

Navy’s football team doesn’t need any distractions.

Two weeks ago, Tulane crushed the Midshipmen 42-10. The defense had its worst performance of the season. The offense couldn’t move the ball and lost three-fifths of the starting offensive line to injury.

After a week off, Rutgers — a team Navy coach Paul Johnson calls unquestionably better than the Green Wave despite a 4-5 record — visits Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium today. Navy (7-2) needs to focus on beating the Scarlet Knights and erasing sour memories from the Louisiana Superdome a fortnight ago.

“We took a nosedive that game,” center August Roitsch said. “It was a big-time wake-up call. The season’s definitely not over, and people will forget about that game if we play well this weekend.”

There are plenty of distractions for the Mids, however. Last night was service selection night, when seniors at the academy find out what they’ll be doing after graduation. It’s the culmination of a long wait and lots of anxiety.

“It’s a big week for all of us,” said senior linebacker Lane Jackson, who wants to become a Navy SEAL. “I’m use to waiting. I did the interview about a month ago, and I’ve been waiting for three, four weeks. It’s good I had that preparation, because the first week was killing me. Now I’m able to focus in on Rutgers.”

Then there’s the next game on the schedule. The Army-Navy game is two weeks away, but it’s never too far from any of the players’ minds. In fact, with Navy’s bowl eligibility assured, there might be even more temptation to peek ahead at what is always the most important game of the season.

“You hope not, but it’s right around the corner,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get this game behind us. This is a big game. There are a lot of things going on. If you’re not careful, you can get distracted.”

Rutgers is a few plays away from entering this game with more wins and as a Big East title contender. The Scarlet Knights have several narrow losses this season.

Quarterback Ryan Hart has put up some impressive numbers, throwing for 2,611 yards. He’s also among the nation’s leaders in interceptions. Last season Rutgers whipped Navy 48-27 at Rutgers Stadium. The Scarlet Knights ran all over the Mids, finishing with 249 rushing yards.

Today is the final game in Annapolis for a bevy of Midshipmen seniors. This class came to the academy as plebes and watched Navy lose every game in Charlie Weatherbie’s final season as coach.

Since then, the Mids are 17-17 with Johnson at the helm, including a 15-7 mark over the last two seasons. There are numerous two-year starters in the senior class who will be remembered, along with last season’s group, as the players that helped turn the program around.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of contributing to something that’s bigger than you,” Jackson said. “That’s why I love team sports so much. To be able to contribute to it and to be able to say later on down the line, ‘I was a part of that right there,’ that’s something awesome.”

Representatives from five bowl games (Champs Sports, Emerald, Houston, Liberty and Motor City) will be in Annapolis to scout the Mids.

“We’ve done a nice job of getting ourselves bowl eligible,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we can make ourselves more marketable.”

One of the members of the 2003 class will be remembered today with a moment of silence. Former wide receiver J.P. Blecksmith, a San Marino, Calif., native, died in Iraq this week.

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